May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight:
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Amen)
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; …
Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’
‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’
he was speaking of the temple of his body.
Once again we come to Covenant as a theme in our readings and worship today. This time it is the Covenant with Moses. We see the Covenant with Noah reflected in the rainbow each time we see a rainbow. God’s war bow is hung up and God’s commitment to grace and love replaces it. We see reflected in out Passports and in the indigenous desire for a treaty the Covenant to Abraham with its promise to have children and land for them to inherit. Today the Covenant with Moses calls forth a way of living in response to God’s generosity.
The Covenant with Moses is not merely the section in Chapter 20 that we summarise as the Ten Commandments. The prologue to this chapter starts with the story of Moses being rescued by the midwives in Exodus chapter 1. This prologue includes God calling Moses from the burning bush expressing God’s grief at the suffering of the Hebrew people. It includes the liberation from slavery in Egypt and the blessing of food and water in the wilderness. In other words the story of what God has already done for the people is the context in which we hear the Commandments. Exodus in effect takes the treaties made by Kings in the Middle East with their people as a model for God’s treaty with God’s people.
Even though each commandment is written for individuals to keep it is understood that these commandments are for the whole people of God. We as a people are called into this relationship with God. Individually we are to keep the commandments, we do so not merely to satisfy God but equally because then the blessings are rich for the whole community. It is not obvious when we read the commandments that they include blessings. They are written in the negative, do not steal, do not kill do not bear false witness etc. The blessings come from obedience to the Commandments. If we all hold dear the commandment not to kill, we can all go about our lives with out fear. If honesty is ingrained in us, we can all have a deep level of trust. If we inculcate into our lives a refusal to envy others and to resist the temptation to steal, we can all save a fortune on security doors and large fences. The community blessings are implied rather than stated.
In a Middle Eastern treaty, the blessings come from the “benevolent” King, so does the punishment if you fail. To some extent that is included in the Ten Commandments as blessings from God. In verse 5 of Exodus 20, the 2nd commandment, we even see the threat of punishment for the Children of those who worship idols. Punishment hangs around for the 3rd and 4th generations. The blessings for a thousand generations. I often wonder if the threat to generations to come is because we see children who were abused abusing their children. We see children who grow up where crime is normal becoming criminals. Children of alcoholics often become alcoholics. Clearly many children choose very consciously not to be abusers, to be criminals or alcoholics. The courage and commitment to that change becomes a blessing to many generations. The people of Germany have very consciously educated their people to understand the depravity they descended into in WW2. Their vision is that nothing so horrendous will ever happen again.
Now we need to jump to the Gospel to give the commandments and even richer context. There are two important take home messages from John’s telling of the cleansing of the temple. Notice what Jesus says, you have made my Father’s house a marketplace. It is different to the other three Gospels where Jesus says, you have made [the house of prayer for all nations] a den of robbers.’ Mark 11:17 John wants us to hear that Jesus is critiquing the transactional nature of Hebrew faith. If you have broken the Commandments you must make sacrifice to renew your relationship with God. If you go to a marketplace to buy food you hand over your money to pay for it. But Jesus is saying no amount of money, no mount of sacrifice will pay for God’s love, God’s forgiveness and generosity.
When Gwenn and I were in Brazil we knew a man, who lived in the Penthouse of his own apartment block. He had two whole levels at the top. He purchased form Europe a crystal Chandelier. The electrician trying to install it dropped it. The whole thing shattered into a thousand pieces. The electrician was adamant that he would pay for it. The owner realised the electrician didn’t earn enough money in a year to pay for it, may be not even in four or five years. The owner just said don’t worry, we’ll just put another light fitting in, help me clean it up and then forget about it. In a way God’s love and generosity is like that Chandelier. We can’t afford to pay for, it doesn’t matter what we try to do it is beyond reach. The hymn “When I survey the wonderous cross” concludes with, were the whole realm of nature mine it is a present far to small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. The gift of life, of salvation, of love is just that a gift, we receive it by faith alone.
Now the story in John’s Gospel of the cleansing of the temple also contains one of the golden threads in the Gospel. If we go back to chapter one, we hear John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, saying here is the Lamb of God. In other words, here is the sacrificial lamb that replaces all sacrifices, then, in the future and for us today. In the prologue of John’s Gospel, we are told Jesus is the word made flesh, in him we see the glory of God. The disciples put two and two together when they experience the resurrection. Jesus had no intention of rebuilding the temple that King Herod had built. His body was the temple. As the Samaritan woman at the well discovered it doesn’t matter where you are, in Samaria or Jerusalem, it is more important that we worship in Spirit and in truth. God is present to us wherever we are.
David Lose reminds us of the Thin Places the Celtic people speak of where it feels like the distance between our finite and material world and God’s eternal and spiritual reality collapses and becomes thin. He goes on to say as we open ourselves, so the Commandments are written on our hearts and we worship in Spirit and in truth all places become thin places. Through faith, we become a part of the body of Christ and as such we are always in the presence of our loving God. That doesn’t mean every news article we read will be good news or that our lives will be warm and fuzzy. But even when the world seems to be against us, we are in God’s loving embrace. Lose says, that always in the presence of God is “both geographical and spiritual: In church or out, at work or in school, at a spiritual highpoint or desert, when in the company of loved ones or desperately alone, in times of joy and sadness, when changing diapers or running errands. In all these “places” and more, God is present, working always to comfort, encourage, strengthen, heal, restore, and send.”
So this week as we hear again the Covenant with Moses, let not hear the commandments as burdens to crush us but as something to enrich and bless the whole people of God. Let’s know that even if break the basic commandments to love God and our neighbour God’s love and forgiveness is a wonderful gift to be embrace. And finally let’s rejoice knowing that as the part of the body of Christ we are always in the presence of our loving God.